When we first thought about this move to Alexandria, Egypt the obvious questions came up in conversations. One was a reflection on the many countries we have had the privilege to travel through or live. Obviously, the distinct smells and fragrances of each place came clear in our minds. What would be distinctive about Egypt and in particular, Alexandria. Would it be a borage of the unsavory smells of poor hygiene as we have experienced, or would there be minimal according to what part of the city we were in, or would there be beautiful fragrances of flowers and blossoms, or the natural gift of the Mediterranean Sea and the sea breeze?
What a pleasant surprise! The people of Alexandria and other areas of Egypt we have been fortunate enough to visit have no smell or fragrance that is distinctive. As Americans, we all pride ourselves, well a large number of us, on the fact that we brush our teeth at least once a day, bath at least once each day, and slather ourselves with soaps, antibacterial concoctions, and heavy fragrances. (The Dude and I always wonder what someone is trying to hide when he or she is wearing a lot of fragrance.)
If you have followed my blog or read some of the earlier posts, you know how I feel about chemicals, so we use only naturally derived soaps, shampoos and conditioners, no antibacterial anything. If we cannot eat or drink it then it does not belong on our skin. Sadly, I do need to report the big corporations have invaded Egypt with the hand sanitizers and other caustic soaps, shampoos/conditioners, and tooth products. Luckily I brought “Fat and The Moon” tooth soap, tooth polish, and cream deodorant. I buy the olive oil soap at The Body Shop in the local mall, and I also brought Aesop’s hair products. We are set, but would our noses be set for what we would find here in Egypt?
Unbelievable cleanliness is what was found. Toilets have the little handheld toilet sprayers, even our apartments are equipped with these little handheld bidets. Showers have the hand held attachments for more thorough cleaning. Public toilets, our staff toilets, everywhere has the ability to actually get clean. There are no smells that are offensive as we stand in queues (lines), waiting at restaurants among the public, or walking down the street and shopping in a public market. Teeth may be missing, but the remaining teeth are clean. There is pride in personal cleanliness. Right now as I gaze out the screened door I see a long line on a balcony of beautiful white T-shirts gently flowing in the Mediterranean breeze and bright sun, bleaching naturally.
We all have to stop assuming Americans are the best at being the cleanest as we just may not be what we think we are, better than other countries we deem as Third World. Often they are ahead of us in many ways, including hygiene. I cannot stress how important it is to look at our world with a clear lenses not clouded with false perspectives, and there is a need to quit judging and making assumptions based on hearsay and the one-sided media outlets.
Please continue to follow along as I share our adventures throughout the great country of Egypt and our travels to other countries. The next blog will be about the students in my class; 14 delightful girls and boys who brighten each day with English, Arabic, French, proper English (transfers from the British school in the city), Turkish, and Spanish. (And yes, I am throwing in some German.) Amazing First Graders!
Living the Crazy Life,
You read the title correctly. It is 87 steps up to our apartment and 87 steps down to the ground. The Dude keeps reminding me it is good for the glutes. Well, some days I agree and others I don’t. This is a campus of stairs. You have to remember that Schutz American School is having its 90 year anniversary this year. We are thrilled to be offered housing here on campus. Let me tell you why.
As we look at the buildings around us, we see highrises made from bricks and concrete. Many do not show any sign of air conditioning and as we can go out on our front porch or our bedroom little balcony we can see families in small living rooms huddled around a small TV either watching shows or playing video games. We live in spacious well-maintained apartments with maid service, laundry service, and the cafeteria directly below on the bottom floor. Jim’s office is a minute walk away and my classroom is two minutes not counting the stairs up to the second floor. Again, teaching in a spacious well-maintained classroom with huge windows, a sweeping view of the soccer field and children’s playground, as well as the huge covered basketball court.
This evening’s walk provided thinking time about the ability to have a secured and clean walk as Alexandria is a very old city, much older than the United States itself. It has very old buildings, many people, garbage on the streets and many live animals. Yet is has state of the art hotels, restaurants, and a magnificent library. We are living in history older than any book, any story, all unimaginable. Today’s trip brought that out as we learned about the history of the land we were enjoying outside of Alexandria. It used to be flooded by the Nile River and vineyards used to abound. There is rumour that Cleopatra may have been buried in the area. The people we work with know the history, proudly, of the land they inhabit. As we visited with different native coworkers, we learned so much. And after our little trips provided by our school, we come back to the comfortable apartments while those outside the walls of our campus are living quite differently. Many are living in very nice condos and large homes with servants, cooks, and drivers while others are living in very small condos with only family members to provide for the large family and they walk to work or take crowded vans/buses/trams. They actually walk in the narrow streets as they are obstacles, open manholes, animals tied up, and falling bricks on the sidewalks. Yes we are used to constant horns as drivers are warning the pedestrians to get out of the ways of be hit.
Taking time to listen, learn about history, observing a culture, habits, and hearing tales of long ago is inspiring. I look at my students here as living heritage of ages very long ago. I wonder whose ancestors may have been part of a pharaoh’s family or part of the slaves who worked here. The walk this evening brought more questions I will have to continue to ask as we have conversations with our colleagues. From the students to the parents to the colleagues and workers here at SAS, this is a tremendous opportunity to broaden perspectives and learn more about other cultures.
The 87 steps are worth the adventure of living in a new but ancient land. Are my glutes better and tighter, who cares! I do know my mind is getting the best workout with the learning I am receiving by listening to those who are truly a living history. We are blessed.
Living the Crazy Life,
Another semester started this week, no wait! A new academic year started and instead of college students I have First Graders, future college students. I cannot wait to share this past three days. I have 13 students on my roster and 11 have shown each day. I have a new student coming from the British school on Monday. All of the students currently attending can read and some are at mid-year level. They all know their numbers for recognition to 100. You probably wonder how a class can begin so high functioning. Let me add, we all have full time teaching assistants who are with us every day from 8-4. My teaching assistant is priceless and quite capable. I feel like I have a co-teacher in the room with me. She is spoiling me as she helps beyond what is normally expected in the States. Let me outline my days.
The children are brought into the room at 8:15 and we have calendar, class business and then immediately begin reading. We have reading until 9:50 and then recess/snack until 10:05. Ingy, takes care of walking them down and picking them up. She is spoiling me as she gets me coffee for the break and specialists times. We then begin writing workshop until they go to either 45 minutes of Music or Art. They have both twice a week. On Thursday in the time slot they have PE and they are to be in their PE uniforms. Their first unit is swimming! We have a nice pool! They come back and we have math until lunch at 11:50-12:35. They have lunch inside at special tables downstairs. I do have the first 20 minutes of lunch duty. (That shocked me and I do find that is my only complaint. I do not have time to eat a lunch and it is making me a grumpy person but never to the kids. This would never fly with the Unions. I am not done yet on this situation.) We then come back for more math, then Arabic every day for 45 minutes and planning time with my partner, Barb. On Thursday, they go to IT in this time slot. They come back, and on Sundays we pack up and finish the day at the library. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday is a time for STEM and social studies. On Tuesday they have another session of PE in the afternoon. We have started a study of bats and this is great as we have bats on campus. They leave at 3:00 and Ingy walks them to the bus line and to the side gate to be picked up by family, driver, or nanny. All entrances are guarded here and we are completely walled.
Now this story is ending my blog for this post. On Thursday I noticed one of my rugs is just too frayed to make it through this year. Also my parents have sent in tennis balls to put on the chair legs so they don’t screech. Lastly, I felt the fan blades were not really clean enough. I sent an email to our director of facilities, per instructions, and just asked a few questions; about the rug, who cuts the balls, and about the fan blades. I kid you not, within minutes two cleaning ladies came in, rolled up the bad carpet, cleaned where it had been, and then put in a cute yellow rug with orange stripes and blue dots! Then our floor custodian asked where the balls were and took them. She had them back in 5 minutes, cut. As she left she told me that the blades would be cleaned today, her day off! I still can’t believe this. You ask and something is completed before you blink. I am spoiled! It is no wonder these children can progress when we have full time teaching assistants, and tasks completed for us immediately. We really can concentrate on giving these students our full attention. True, we are in a school celebrating 90 years and the buildings are old, but can we ever teach these eager minds. Let me also add these little characters also speak English well and some are speaking not two but three languages. Amazing!
Living the crazy life,
Another day on the Mediterranean, but all is not perfect. There are issues with the power. Living in Egypt has brought about many changes, some good, some not so good. Power plants always seem to be a target and that has happened here. Because they are not quite up to the full capacity we have power outages from time to time and we then function on generators.
What this has caused – spending time talking, conversing, walking, visiting with others with just the cooling fans, breezes on the porches and balconies, and seeing fireworks. That’s right, fireworks. They are shot off every night by neighborhood people. Nothing fancy just simple fireworks a little ways up in the sky. Quite the site.
We have yet to use candles as the generators provide enough power to have lights and fans, just no air conditioners. Are we suffering, no. As we sit in our school apartment and realize that this school was founded in 1924, we think about those who came before and did not have the comforts we have. They survived and so will we. It is the way and we will embrace it.
About the evenings on the balcony outside our apartment – we witnessed quite the OSHA nightmare. We heard tapping and pounding and saw across campus the workers installing an air conditioner. Are you ready? On man was laying on stomach on top of a rolled up Turkish carpet, hanging most of his body out the window on the second story as another was holding onto his ankles. He was upside down pounding the holders into the side of the building for a frame to put the air conditioning unit in. Another man was handing him the tools he needed. I wanted to snap a picture but did not want to be rude. It was quite the site and we talked about what would happen in the States. We also see, daily, the buildings going up around the campus with guys working 15 stories and up without any harnesses, safety lines, nothing. They are laying bricks, cement, you name it when it comes to building a major high rise. The cement mix is hauled up by an old fashioned pulley system. We have been warned to not walk near this work. Amazing is all I can say.
Just another awesome day in Alexandria!
Living the Crazy Life,
You all know how passionate I am about life-long learning, and I so practice what I preach. This past week I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my classroom assistant for this year. Ingy is one wonderful young lady who is very interested in the field of education. Not only is she my assistant but she is quickly becoming my insight into Egypt and the people. We spent a couple of hours just sitting and chatting about who we were and the best part of this chat was close to my heart.
I, personally, am tired of the hate being exhibited by many of the citizens of the USA. This hate is political party related, religious denomination related, race related, and it extends into so many areas I cannot list them all. I wish all young people in the US would have the chance to travel, truly travel and live in another country or two for an extended period of time. It would cause change. It would cause these young people to come back and share with the older populations. Living in another country, not as the ugly American but as a learner, would cause insight to happen. Often Jim and I meet someone and they give us the “I have been there” spiel, but they stopped for one portion of a day in a port or were taken places by a tour bus. They never lived among the people for an extended period of time. They did not sit down with a local citizen and have a thorough discussion. They did not live among the culture for an extended time.
As I talk each day with Ingy, I am learning a lot about the Egyptian culture and the tremendously loving people who are here. I have learned about the Muslim religion, the reason for the wearing of certain articles of religious related clothing, about marriage, customs, and what to expect from my incoming first graders who are all Egyptian. I am also learning a lot about the Coptic Christians as I have friends who are Egyptian Christians. I have learned about the views and reasoning behind the varied viewpoints with the different factions of people in the Middle Eastern countries. I enter stores by going through metal detectors and passing by a security guard and this is the norm. I do not feel threatened, judged, or afraid, no more than I do in the US. I do feel more secure as I go into malls, hotels, and here at the school. Even though we are coming back in a school van, we still have to go through a gate and then inspected with a mirror checking underneath the van. Do I see this as crazy, no I don’t. It is becoming my way of life just as it is for all the local people here. I am getting used to the work week that starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday.
Living here is different. Living here is enlightening, Living here is learning to love more people who are not like me. Living here is causing a more thorough living. Living here is expanding my learning. The other day I told Jim that I wished all Jessup students would have had the opportunity to study abroad in a very different community like the Middle East and northern Africa. It would have made for livelier discussions particularly in the religion and Bible courses. Oh yes, I mean every professor should have the same experience. It is different when you are on a mission as opposed to actually becoming a functioning, living part of the culture without a specific target or focus that can taint the view. I cannot of think but a few professors who have actually done that, and they were at SRJC and Sierra College.
Those of you who are young parents and a little older parents, and even grandparents, find a way for your child to live overseas in a country that is different from your belief system. Have faith in their abilities to reason and have faith in how you taught them and modeled for them. Let them live and learn. Broaden their worlds. Have them live the culture, not just do the quick drive by and touristy pieces.
Wow! I love learning! More to come on the start of this year as we begin Tuesday.
Living the Crazy Life,
Truthfully, it was a grueling trip to Alexandria, Egypt. We began with not getting a full night’s sleep on Thursday as our fire alarm went off in the building at 3:00 am. once that happened and the police and fire fighters arrived only to find nothing, thankfully, we just could not go back to sleep. Did we smell smoke, something not right? Did we hear a crackle? Sleep without sleeping until getting up early to finish last minute details. This included errands, and then the dreaded packing of the final clothes. Three Army/Navy surplus duffel bags, one big blue REI duffel, and one of our old cherished Danish H2O bags later, we were down to our trusty Patagonia bags that have been with us on many trips home and abroad. As no surprise to my family, I had more school supply items than personal garments and shoes. Those who know me are probably very shocked, but remember, there are awesome stores here in Alexandria.
Oh yes, on to the trip. We decided to just stay up as we had to leave for SFO by 2:15 am. With our adult children lovingly and patiently putting up with my craziness, we made it to blastoff time. Tara kindly dropped us off on her way home to San Francisco. We were second in line, and that is quite important to me, as many of you know. We were checked in with a hiccup – the agent couldn’t get the machine for baggage to work. Thank goodness we were there early. Checked in with our tickets and carry-ons, we were off to the TSA. Having our GOES clearance is awesome. Sailed through and to the gate. Then to sit and watch for one of our colleagues. We found each other and then waited a little while longer for the boarding process on Jet Blue. Here is the tough part. Jim and I had the last row which meant the sits stayed in the upright position the entire flight. Poor Jim is still dealing with very swollen knees. The family beside us with a child having bathroom issues did not help either in trying to get any rest. At least 5 1/2 hours later we landed in New York. We navigated our way to the proper terminal and then onward to the Gate area. Right across from us was a pub serving breakfast all day. Yes! Bacon, sausage, and eggs!
As we finished I had the intuition to check on our seats. Sure enough, unbeknownst to us we were to recheck in for new boarding passes. Glad I have the sixth sense as we were able to get our new boarding passes and the also had a huge consequence – where our luggage would go. Whew! We were able to board with no problem, all three of us sitting together and in seats with reclining ability! Now for a flight of 9 1/2 hours. Egypt Air was really nice. Comfortable for a long overseas flight and they had my meals perfectly made. They were quite delicious for airline meals. They somewhat reminded us of our many trips on Singapore Airlines with the warm towels, nice headphones, and booties. (Most people know our flying rules of never taking off our shoes. We not only want to be sensitive to those around us, but also it keeps our feet from swelling as badly and not being able to get the shoes back on. Even with compression socks it is just not polite.) Back to the trip. We landed safely, disembarked, bought our visa for $25 (reimbursed), and then through customs to the waiting welcomes of Nathan, Randa, and Mohammed. What a wonderful and warmly sincere greeting! Then the walk to the vans and forward to our venture through Cairo and toward the Pyramids of Giza. Lunch was at a former hunting palace for a former king and it now a hotel. Everything piece of wood was hand carved. We were fed a feast of wonderful dishes while gazing in awe at these grand old pyramids. We then continued our trek to Alexandria, a three hour ride. Fascinating scenery kept us in awe.
We were given keys and directed to our apartments. Did we ever need sleep. It did not come easily as we are in a big metropolitan city. Like any city, it never sleeps. Since we have arrived, we did get a bigger apartment which is much better for the big guy. We have more room to have people over. We have been in our office and classroom. More on this later. We have been so busy with orientation and becoming acculturated. Arabic lessons are fun and it is refreshing not to be bombarded with the testing mindset of teaching. More on this later. Yesterday we ended the busy day with dinner in the Villa at our Head of School’s apartment. Wow, Nathan has a tremendously inviting rooftop. The food was excellent. Today was a trip to a private beach, swimming in the Mediterranean, and tomorrow is a full city tour of Alexandria ending with dinner at our Principal Randa’s home. What an indoctrination to Schutz American School. The rest of the regular faculty come in this weekend as we start our week on Sunday.
I cannot say enough about how we have been greeted, excepted, cared about, and made to feel genuinely welcome. More will come as next week we get into meeting the rest of the faculty and staff, share about Jim’s office and my classroom. Oh, yes, and the funeral going on behind our apartment is another experience you will read about. Just wait!
Whatever, just don’t believe everything you read or see in the news and general media. This land is a place of pure awesomeness!
Living the Crazy Life,